Crystal Planning Commission Recap – August 11, 2014

The Crystal Planning Commission met Monday after skipping the meeting in July.  We are scheduled to meet monthly, but if there are no items on the agenda the meetings are canceled.

There were two items on the agenda- considering a variance for a sign for Liquor Liquidators and considering a conditional use permit for a planned U-Haul store.

The sign for Liquor Liquidators was the first item on the agenda.  Liquor Liquidators is a rather unique commercial property in Crystal because it has residential property on both sides of it.  The store was originally a Tom Thumb back in the 60s.  It sat vacant for a while, and was turned into a liquor store a few years ago.  The owner was looking for a variance to allow the sign to be located 1 foot from the property line (bordering the street) instead of 10 feet.

Code requires a 50 foot setback from residential properties, and because there are residential properties on either side, the sign can only be placed in a narrow part of the middle of the property.  A 10 foot setback from the street would require the sign to be in the middle of the parking lot.  I visited the property before the meeting and saw first hand that a variance was needed.  City staff recommended approval and the variance passed unanimously.

The U-Haul CUP was a different story.  A business owner wants to open a store in Lamplighter Square (the strip mall where Crystal Café is located).  Part of the business would include the ability to reserve a U-Haul truck.  The zoning for the property does not allow vehicle rental, but the owner was requesting the ability to keep one truck (or trailer) on sight.  As long as the amount of space taken up by the rental truck is within the limits set by code, rental can be allowed as a conditional use in that zone.

The proposed use generated several questions by the commissioners, with many expressing concern about the project.  Unfortunately the applicant did not attend the meeting.  The applicant also failed to provide the city staff with some of the information that they requested.  I was in favor of granting the conditional use provided we kept a close eye on the property to make sure that the business did not exceed the one truck limit.  However, there was little appetite for this approach among the other commissioners.  We ultimately decided to vote to continue the discussion to our next meeting, which would give the applicant time to provide the additional documentation, and to attend and answer questions personally.

I voted in favor of the motion to continue, which passed unanimously.

My general approach when it comes to conditional use permits is to assume the applicant is innocent until proven guilty- meaning I am generally inclined to support a conditional use (as long as the use is reasonable and legal) until an infraction is committed.  In this case, the lack of complete information from the applicant made me comfortable voting to continue the discussion until later.

After a quick update on a few topics we covered last month the meeting adjourned.

Crystal Planning Commission Recap – June 2014

The Crystal Planning Commission met for the second time this year tonight.  We didn’t have anything on the agenda for February, March, April or May, which was kind of a bummer.  But we made up for it with a jam-packed agenda tonight.

I had the pleasure of voting to approve conditional use permits or variances for:

  • Milton’s, which will now be allowed to be open until midnight instead of 10PM on weeknights (and 1AM on New Year’s Eve)
  • MD Liquor’s, which will now allowed to be open until 10PM instead of 9PM
  • And St. Raphael’s Church, which will be getting a new monument sign along Bass Lake Road

All three actions require city council approval, but I don’t foresee any issues, as all were passed unanimously by the commission and without any public testimony.

The last item of the evening was to consider a series of actions related to the city’s new public works facility.  I have stated in the past that I agree that we are in need of a new facility, but I have serious concerns with both the process used to gain approval for the facility, and the overall cost of the building and land.  In my view the project is too expensive, and city staff has been a bit overzealous in how they went about pushing this project through the council.

At issue tonight were a package of variances, conditional use permits, and easement vacations related to the project. I spoke in opposition to the action we were being asked to take.  By the time these items were presented to the planning commission, the city had already spent several million dollars on this project, and in fact has begun demolition.  In my opinion the commission was being asked to rubber stamp the city’s actions.  There was no way that the city would derail this project at this stage, regardless of any objections that may have been raised by the commission.

I was not appointed to the commission to be a rubber stamp, so I voted against the package. I was joined by Commissioner Andrew Richter in voting no. The measure passed 7-2.

Several citizens and local business owners were in attendance to present concerns related to this project. I was glad to see the city staff and the project architect mostly responsive to citizen concerns, and I hope these considerations make their way into the final plans.

-Jeff Kolb

Crystal Planning Commission Meeting Recap – January 13, 2014

The January 13, 2014 Crystal Planning Commission meeting was rather uneventful.

As it was the first meeting of the year, we voted on new officers (Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary). Officers are only allowed to serve two years in the same position. The current officers were all in year one of the two year limit, and were all unanimously voted in for a second one year term.

We also approved the meeting calendar, which keeps the same meeting schedule as we have been using.

The only other item on the agenda was to take up the garage variance from the last meeting.

As a refresher, a guy and his wife moved into a very strange property on Quail Avenue, over by the lake, and wanted permission to basically build a new garage where the old garage sits. Because the old garage is non-conforming (in that it isn’t set back 3 feet from the lot line) and grandfathered in (in that it was built before the zoning ordinance was passed) it would require a variance to allow a rebuild.

The garages on this particular block are very close to the street, because the street was supposed to be an alley. (See last month’s post for the history.)

The majority of the commission (myself excepted) and the city staff were not thrilled about the idea of allowing a new garage to be built 1 foot from the street. I didn’t mind it, as every other garage on the block is built that way, and many won’t be torn down for many many years to come. Because of the unique nature of the property, and the fact that the encroachment wasn’t new (just a replacement of an existing structure) I was OK allowing the variance.

But, seeing that his variance was going to be shot down, the property owner changed his request during the meeting to agree to a 3 foot setback from the curb, and a 1 foot setback from the lot line that backs up to the neighbor’s garage.

After some lengthy discussion about setting precedents, etc., the commission voted unanimously to allow the variance.

As of meeting time there were no applications in process for February’s meeting, so we most likely won’t meet.

Prepared and paid for by the Kolb for Crystal Committee, PO Box 28373, Crystal, MN 55428